Turning and Taking a Look

Turning and Taking a Look

I was glad that an elderly member of my congregation called me at work on Friday. Even though it has been a stressful week in the life of the rabbi, and next week promises to be equally crazy.

But I was glad anyway.

Because if she hadn’t called, I would never have taken the call.
And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have picked up the receiver.

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have looked up from my computer.
And then I wouldn’t have turned around in my swivel chair.
I certainly wouldn’t have put my feet up on the other chair to talk to her.

And I wouldn’t have looked up from my desk, and out my window.
I wouldn’t have lifted my eyes and realized that it was about 4:00, p.m., 1600 hours, nearly COB.

I lift my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come?
My help comes from the HOLY ONE, the maker of heaven and earth.
– Psalm 121.

I’d never have known that the light of the Friday afternoon was fading, but it was gleaming, golden off the large metropolitan hospital across the road from the Synagogue.

I’d never have realized that the light gleamed a copper gold almost like the pink gold limestone of Jerusalem, offset by shadows of a deep, almost cobalt blue.

But she did, and I did, and just outside the window, a squirrel was scampering around, probably hoping to find some nuts.
A huge bird came in for a landing on “my” tree across the patio.
Traffic roared along the interstate highway, visible now through the bare trees between our property and the road.

That weekend, we read the Torah portion of Shemot – “names.”  The first word of the portion, a list of names of the literal children of Israel who came to Egypt to become a nation, great mighty, and numerous , gives the Torah portion its name, and since this is also the beginning of the book of Exodus, it gives the whole book its Hebrew name.

The story covers a lot of episodes – in addition to setting the scene, a new Pharaoh’s fear of the strangers in his midst leading to hate and to an attempted genocide, a desperate gamble to save a Hebrew baby from a proto-Holocaust, an improbable adoption of said child who becomes Moses; Moses’ coming of age, his sudden attempt to halt a slave’s beating that goes horribly awry; a panicked flight; a chance meeting that becomes a courtship and marriage, there is also a pastoral scene of tending a flock that leads to an encounter that changes history.  An encounter between a former Egyptian prince turned simple Midianite shepherd with a burning bush and the voice of none other than the Holy One, Blessed Be.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes in his breathtaking work, Honey From the Rock: how long would one have to look to know that the bush was not burning up?  Only once Moses has said, “now let me turn and see this marvelous sight” does God speak to him.  Kushner mentions another character from the Talmud, Choni the circle-drawer – who in a time of drought stands in a circle he has drawn in the dust and refuses to budge until God saves the people from destruction.  To show that nothing – not a bush, not a circle drawn in the sand – and I must add, not a ringing telephone – is beneath the dignity of being an Entrance, one of those Gateways to Holiness that are anywhere and everywhere.

Take off your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground.  Exodus, 3:5.



Rabbi Justin Kerber serves at the Temple Emanuel in St. Louis Missouri.

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